After the MLS All-Star Game Wednesday night in Portland, some misconceptions have been exposed. Keeping in mind that this was just a friendly where the result mattered little and playing to win wasn’t at the very fore of the conversation and thinking surrounding the game, here are my 5 thoughts regarding the 2014 MLS All-Star Game:
1. Pep Guardiola Isn’t The Classiest Human Being Around
I love Pep. You love Pep. We all love Pep. Or we all did.
The narrative surrounding Pep Guardiola throughout his career as a player and now as the most celebrated manager in the game is one of class. Guardiola has always been viewed as a cerebral person, a philosopher of the beautiful game who cares very deeply about style and character.
Guardiola’s insistence on the best, purest soccer, and his kindness as a person have won him followers and admirers across the globe. One of those admirers was Caleb Porter, his opposite number in the MLS All-Star Game.
Porter wasn’t shy about explaining his quasi-idolization of Guardiola in the press leading up to the game. The Timbers has modeled his preferred playing style and team building mechanisms after Guardiola, and Pep himself had to know how Porter looked up to him well before the game was played. It was an occasion Porter was looking forward to greatly, in no small part because he’d be managing a team against Guardiola.
I understand that Guardiola was unhappy with the severity of tackles flying in mainly from Cascadia’s main instigators in Will Johnson and Osvaldo Alonso, and also in part from Tim Cahill, but Guardiola should have understood first off, that Porter has absolutely no control over the on-field behavior of players he’s coached for two days before an exhibition game, and secondly, that the likes of Alonso and Johnson don’t know any other way to play.
If Pep had a problem with any players, he should have talked to them. Not their helpless and hapless manager.
In the end, Guaridola railing at the fourth official, refusing – pointedly, and on multiple occasions – to shake Porter or his coaching staff’s hand, exposed him as a sore loser and child. It’s poor, poor form, bordering on malicious.
If Guardiola didn’t want any challenges, he shouldn’t have signed up to play a soccer game.
2. I Feel Bad For Caleb Porter
Under usual circumstances, Porter is feisty, slightly whiney, and uber competitive. He’s not cut out for sympathy.
But one look at the puppy-dog eyes and mouthed apology in the direction of his idol Guardiola from Porter after the hard challenge from Johnson on Bastian Schweinsteiger melted that all away.
Even when the first tackle, from Alonso happened, and Guardiola started in at Porter and the MLS bench, Porter sat back with his hands up in apology.
As Bruce Arena will tell you, Porter never backs down from a challenge. This was obviously different. Being on the sideline with Guardiola meant a hell of a lot.
Not shaking an opposition manager’s hand is a rare and severe action taken because of rare and severe actions. Not a couple of late challenges. That sucked for Porter. It was something out of the serialized Damned United. Sometimes, heroes let you down. That’s what happened here.
3. Landon Donovan Is Not Washed Up
For once and for all, let’s put this one to bed. Landon Donovan may even be having a renaissance of sorts. His play this MLS season has made him worthy of his place in the All-Star team, and he duly delivered.
Donovan’s goal was special, not only because it won the game and the MVP award, but because it was taken against Bayern, a team that he didn’t make it with, and with Jurgen Klinsmann in attendance. This came against the type of German opposition, sporting Julian Green on the field at the time, that Klinsmann selected over him for the World Cup.
Donovan is playing some terrific soccer. With the help of a world class cross from the brilliant Diego Valeri, MLS’ all-time scoring leader took his goal well, and showed once again why there has never been a man for the big stage in American soccer like him.
Furthermore, Donovan looks like he’s enjoying his soccer. He clearly enjoyed being in Portland with the All-Stars, and his Galaxy team is rolling. The World Cup rejection will always hurt, but it might have given Donovan the shock he needed to start really enjoying his soccer and prolonging his career.
4. MLS Doesn’t Suck
Here’s where I’ll try not to delve into hyperbole because these games really don’t matter that much, but the All-Star game is clearly a stage where the world is watching – and MLS delivered.
It wasn’t just the result, which was deserved. It was the display of talent on the field.
Nick Rimando stole the show in the first half with his incredible goalkeeping, and Bill Hamid had another sensational save in the second half. Speed down the flanks, not only from DeAndre Yedlin but also from the likes of Sean Franklin was there in abundance, as was a willingness to take players on. Clint Dempsey and Thierry Henry at one point combined for an incredible one-touch passing sequence, while all the All-Stars employed did their jobs to satisfaction. And this after just a few hours of training together.
The atmosphere in Portland, all week, but especially for the game, was fantastic. As the game wore on and got more serious, it became clear that MLS wanted to win. They did – and that doesn’t happen on accident.
You know the general story-lines – a new TV deal that kicks in next year will see the salary cap balloon and a fourth designated player spot potentially be added. Two high-octane franchises in Orlando City and NYCFC will enter the league next year. MLS is going places. That wasn’t going to be decided either way in the All-Star Game, but it certainly was reinforced.
5. Thierry Henry Is Not Aloof
While the misconception is that Henry is aloof, it’s been hard to see Henry any other way at times in his career. His still-raw handball against Ireland in 2010, his passing penalty with Robert Pires for Arsenal – even his now-signature celebration, Henrying, is standing against the goalpost looking slightly irritated to be employed to play soccer and score goals at all.
During New York Red Bulls games, Henry’s body language can be nothing short of alarming – does he care? Is he enjoying himself? Does he feel like this is all so far beneath he won’t dignify the game with his full exuberance?
Well, Henry does care. He’s an incredible advocate for MLS, and an incredibly well-connected and engaging athlete who is aging like a fine wine. Henry soaked it all up in Portland – playing to the crowd, interacting with teammates and the press, taking a post-game lap around the field after exiting to a special ovation during the game – and it’s becoming clearer and clearer that he’s retiring.
That’s too bad. Because Henry still rocks. And with his game, he could play until he’s sixty and be the next Uncle Drew. Hopefully there’s a way to keep Henry in the States, in media – where he’s probably going – or even coaching. Listening to Henry, it’s clear that he’s a connoisseur of MLS.
It never really worked with the Red Bulls, and their rapidly declining interest in their soccer team coincides with Henry’s retirement. While that’s unfortunate, Henry has been everything MLS and New York could have asked of him and more. We are seeing the last of a true legend.
All in all, the 2014 All-Star Game was a great night for MLS and Portland – less so for Bayern Munich and their fabled coach.
Watch the highlights from the match where MLS All-Stars beat Bayern Munich 2-1: